Of late there has been a lot of calls for public donation to support the development of Sekolah Agama Rakyat or Pondoks. These calls are being made by ustaz and ustazah during Islamic lectures and classes at many mosques. Most often these ustaz and ustazah will claim that the ulamaks that exist today are the product of these establishments; without which the knowledge, continuity and development of Islam will fade away. They even warned that should we not do something (to preserve the Sekolah Agama Rakyat or Pondoks) our young generations will suffer Islamic knowledge drain in future.
I am one of those who went through pondok education system during my younger days. I considered myself lucky having been educated both in sekolah orang putih and pondok. At pondok we learned how to recite the quran (from tajwid to lagu) and basic arabic language. I was already a teacher by 12 years old, teaching new students how to recite. We also studied about Fiqh (how to fast, pray, haj, etc), Usuluddin (about God), Tasawwuf (how to get closer to God), Muamalat (how to lead daily life from – how to wake up in the morning to how to sleep with spouses). We learned about scores of other subject matters; mostly from kitabs (books) written by human. In these books, the authors arguments are often either their own, referred to other authors and hadiths. The subjects covered are quite extensive and detail. However very little were referred to the Quran.
For example, in the syllabus of muamalat, there must be a verbal sale and purchase in order for the transaction to be halal (valid). The seller must pronounce, “aku jual beras segantang dengan harga dua rial” and the buyer must respond by “aku belilah beras dengan harga sebanyak dibayar” during the payment, else the sale and purchase is invalid. In the syllabus of taharah (cleanliness), for example, washing can only be completed when rinsed with running water – if not, a garment cannot be used for prayers else the prayers will be invalid. One of the reasons why conventional village houses and mosques have gaps in the plank floor is to facilitate easy flow of running water should one needs to wash e.g. cat’s or child’s urine. I used to witness a person involuntarily urinated (during prayers) in Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca. When they cleaned it, there was no running water used. By the above definition and method I learned in pondok, it will make Masjid Al-Haram not a clean place for prayers. In one syllabus of tasauf the author even recommended (sunat- rewarded if done) a sitting style and noises to make during excretory process.
The method of teaching at pondok is usually like this – the tok guru (teacher) would read the pages and explained what it’s supposed to mean, and the students (with kitabs) would follow what was read word by word. Others would just listen attentively. What was written and read from the kitab will be taken as true and correct. One kitab lesson would advance just a few pages a day. A few pages from various kitabs were read in a day, usually in the morning, afternoon and early night. Interractions, Q&A, discussions were usually minimal.
What was heard during this lessons or sessions would be taken as true and uncorrectable. People would always judge things, action or happenings or whatever into halal, haram, sunat or makru; sah or batal by saying and referring to “the kitab said so” or “Tok Guru so and so said so”. If one tried to reason or rationalise then he will be branded; to some extend as an unbeliever. I still remembered (in 1960’s) when I was reprimanded by and old lady for wearing a baseball cap. Wearing a baseball cap, then, is an act of kafir.
Having finished one kitab, the tok guru will then start with a new kitab. Having finished all the kitabs in his familiarity (usually about 10) he will re start again. Almost all pondoks teaches the same kitabs. The syllabus of tafsir (exegesis of the Quran) was not the focus because it was indoctrinated that “learning the Quran is not easy” An elderly person I knew stayed at one pondok for so many many years, and I wonder how many times he had gone through the books over again and again. Send this person for one week in Scotland, he will have problems with his rituals.
The tok guru will usually be wearing all white. Head gears (serban) is almost compulsory and is often a measure of piety and godliness. Why? because it was taught by the kitabs that hadith says that the prophet wore serban and angels wear serban in heaven and wearing serbans during prayers make the prayer more valuable. In a famous pondok, the dress and behavioral code posted at the notice board include “Batik shirt shall not be worn” and “There shall be no radio in the pondok”.
The tok guru and budak pondok (students) usually memorise long doas (prayers) and recitals in Arabic specific for various occassions. They always get the highest respect from the community; from leading the funeral prayers to shaving the child’s head on the seventh day after birth. The tok guru will be referred to for air tawar (curing water) if one’s children is misbehaving or even to pass a school exams. To some extents, during feasts, one shall not eat until the tok guru has started.
Students having graduated (usually after 4 years) from the pondok institution would usually return to their hometowns where they normally secure a job of imam (a person who leads prayers at mosques) or a muazzin (a person who calls people for prayers using specific phrases and usually in a melodic tonation)
In general Islam practised by many people especially in the rural areas are what taught at the pondoks with tok guru and their students as examples and models. Anybody else are not eligible to talk on Islam. Recently, a respectable Quran recital tok guru expressed his disapproval of learning to read Arabic Quran using modern technology like CDs and computers. Still a hugh percentage of people including university graduates and officers still rely heavily on these tok gurus and what they learned from their parents who learned from tok gurus. Tahlil (remembering and praying for the dead) and selawat (singing praises to prophet Muhammad and stories about his life) is still widely practised; to name a few. Reading the Quran strictly refers to reciting it in Arabic; and the way or code to read them, when to read what, are guided by the hadiths and what the kitabs said. It is not surprising, as the pondok institution does not accept, let alone promote Quran alone as a guide.
Some examples of lessons taught at pondoks.
If you yawn, you shall close your mouth with your right hand with palm in side, or left hand with palm outside.
It is recommended that you cut your fingernails on Fridays or Wednesdays, never at night. Cutting fingernails should start with the thumb of the right hand outwards, followed with the left.
You shall shave your pubic hairs regularly. You shall start having sex by wetting your sex organs with your saliva.
Wearing serbans (head gear) magnify the quality and value of your prayers.
Going early for prayers magnify your rewards (it was narrated by one tok guru that in the old days people went for Friday prayers using torches, i.e at night even before fajr prayers, to benefit the rewards).
Women who does not cover their hair will be hung by their hairs in hell.
It is recommended that you return home a different route from that you leave.
There is a specific way to bathe after sex, differing means your prayers is invalid.
Pronouncing quranic words not in arabic lahjah (dialect, slang, tone, etc) is haram.
My note: What about the Germans and Japanese, etc.
… and many more examples.
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